The Los Angeles Galaxy have emerged as the favorite to sign superstar striker Didier Drogba in a move that would continue to establish Major League Soccer as a popular destination for big-name players seeking a fresh challenge.
Drogba, the Ivory Coast forward who plays for Chelsea in the English Premier League, has called off contract talks with his current club, and his agent has been busy fielding interest from a number of suitors with deep pockets. The MLS champion Galaxy is one team believed to have made their intent to sign Drogba known, which would suggest that David Beckham is indeed on his way out.
Snagging Drogba would be a real coup for MLS, as the league continues to ride a recent wave of positive vibes. The Galaxy's title win in the final year of Beckham's contract created plenty of headlines and came just weeks after the release of figures that revealed MLS is now the third-best attended sports league in North America.
Other possible destinations for Drogba include the Russian league and Qatar, where several clubs backed by oil money have the funds to at least match his current salary of about $185,000 per week.
Thierno Seydi, Drogba's agent, has insisted the 33-year-old will go wherever he can make the most money. "At his age he has nothing left to prove as a player," Seydi said. "He will go wherever he feels good from a financial point of view."
However, Yahoo! Sports has learned from sources close to the player that there is far more to his choice than cash, with other factors at stake that boost the Galaxy's chances.
Drogba is indeed interested in maximizing his earnings in what is likely to be the final contract of his career, yet is also mindful of the additional revenue he could make off the field of play. Endorsements would be more significant in the United States, where he already has some public profile, having appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated before last year's World Cup.
"Lifestyle would also be an issue," a source said. "No disrespect to the other interested clubs, but everyone knows that Los Angeles is a desirable place to be. If you can make the same or even more money there, why would you not go down that route?
"Another thing that you have to think about is his role as a public figure in [the Ivory Coast]. He has been instrumental in increasing awareness about the political and humanitarian issues there and understands the responsibility that comes with it. Being in America would give him a huge platform to effect further positive change."
Perhaps Seydi's approach is simply a ploy to gain his client the best contract possible. A scenario where Drogba replaced Beckham as an iconic figure at the Galaxy would make sense and benefit both parties.
And it would improve the MLS, a league on the rise. Thierry Henry has been productive since joining the New York Red Bulls, and new franchises in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver are enjoying strong support while forming a keen rivalry in the Pacific Northwest.
Standards of play and refereeing have improved dramatically, although MLS executives harbor lofty ambitions for further increases in the level of their product.
[Related: Beckham's mixed reaction in Indonesia]
"Ten years from now we need to have at least 50 Landon Donovan-caliber American players in the league," MLS executive vice president Dan Courtemanche said. "We also need to have multiple players better than Donovan competing in MLS. With a country of 300 million-plus people, you would hope that could happen."
The impact of Beckham's four and a half years in L.A. may have been more significant in terms of reach than pure numbers. While the league has grown in real terms, the true value of Beckham's move was that the league is now recognized around the world and is considered a genuine option for players the caliber of Drogba, who only a few years ago might not have even thought about it.
An increase to 19 teams for next season and a multi-year television deal with NBC have been touted by the league, with some justifiable pride, as solid steps in the right direction.
It may be utterly unrealistic to think that MLS can challenge the world's best leagues for quality and depth any time soon, yet the league is undoubtedly in strong shape, even if the ownership structure means that profit and loss figures are not released for public consumption. More arrivals like that of Drogba would only help shift the needle further, and even with Beckham's departure likely, MLS can be said to be enjoying a surge of health.
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